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The Killing Floor: Lisandro Alonso’s “Los Muertos”

The Killing Floor: Lisandro Alonso's "Los Muertos"

What do we know about Vargas, the main character of Argentinean filmmaker Lisandro Alonso’s second feature, Los Muertos? About as much as we know about the protagonists of Alonso’s two other features—2001’s La Libertad and 2008’s Liverpool (Fantasma, an hour-long 2006 film set in a Buenos Aires movie house, rounds out the director’s body of work)—which is not a lot: that he is from a remote part of Argentina, that he is a man of very few words, and that he has grown accustomed to an all-consuming daily routine, in the graying Vargas’s case a long incarceration for the murder of his two brothers. In all of Alonso’s films—which look at the lives of the rural poor, often observing non-actors in long, contemplative takes as they approximate for the camera their everyday labor against scenic but vaguely threatening natural backdrops—the director takes a quietly defiant stance against cinematic conventions. The only label the thirty-five-year-old filmmaker doesn’t apparently shirk is that of “Argentinean”; the director’s committing to film of some of the country’s most remote and forbidding locations, for the most part far from bustling Buenos Aires and its most basic amenities, practically constitutes a national project at this point. Otherwise, Alonso’s films are meditative but thoroughly unsettled: his films refuse the documentary classification by insisting on including fictional elements, and reject the narrative categorization by dropping hints concerning character and story only obliquely. Read Benjamin Mercer’s entry in Reverse Shot’s American All-Stars symposium.

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